Massage Therapy: Supporting you through Cancer Treatment

We often think of Massage as either something we do for general relaxation or to remedy sore muscles, however it is also a very powerful modality to lower stress levels, as is found with people diagnosed with various forms of cancer.

There are a myriad of massage styles that can be used with patients undergoing cancer treatment—Swedish massage (long strokes & pressure); Deep tissue massage (where muscles are tight & knotted, requiring a more intensive approach); Myotherapy (where trigger points, or muscle spasms are causing pain or limiting the range of motion); and Reflexology (where pressure on specific reflex points in the feet, hands or ears can release blockages & increase energy flow to various organ systems).

A particular massage approach that is ideal for patients who have had lymph nodes surgically removed is Lymphatic massage or drainage, which helps to move the lymph fluid through the channels, releasing waste products from the body.  This is a highly effective way to decrease swelling caused by Lymphedema, which can be a painful condition in itself (often experienced after mastectomies (i)—This study also reported no adverse events amongst the 692 women receiving massage treatment for symptom control).

There is abundant evidence that therapeutic massage helps people with cancer both physically and emotionally, and it can improve quality of life by providing relief from some of the adverse effects of treatment.  The National Institute of Health in the US analyzed experimental data from 20 studies done between 1996 and 2007 with Massage therapy being applied to cancer patients, and concluded that no adverse events occurred that were attributed to massage therapy(ii)  Moreover, most patients in the studies “looked forward to sessions with positive anticipation and expectations of pleasure, and expressed regret that sessions were ending.”  When patients had more advanced cancers, pain was by far the most frequent comment recorded before the treatment session began. Other symptoms reported by the participants included gastrointestinal problems, respiratory concerns, edema, fatigue or lack of stamina, sleep issues, and skin problems. It was concluded that relief was frequently obtained by patients for many of these issues, after one or more sessions of massage therapy.

The Canadian Cancer Society (iii) describes patients who have had difficult experiences during oncology treatments that can create tension in their muscles, and pain in their bodies, and recommends they learn how to relax and receive touch as an expression of nurturing and caring.  Under these circumstances the patients receiving massage can experience a reduction in anxiety and stress levels, as well as improved circulation and a generalized increase in personal well-being.  Positive results are often obtained re: sleep quality and reducing nausea, which commonly accompanies chemotherapy treatments.

They also advise patients to talk to their healthcare team about trying massage therapy if they experience GI Tract symptoms, respiratory concerns, edema, tension, fatigue or lack of stamina, sleep issues, and skin problems. They suggest giving the massage therapist some specifics of the cancer diagnosis, noting all treatments past and current, as well as any medicines being taken, as it will help the practitioner tailor the treatment sessions to specific needs.  For instance, if you have had radiation therapy, you may find it uncomfortable to have the treatment area touched, even lightly. So a treatment plan could include working out tension in areas of the body that are less sensitive.

A recent 10-week study of 62 patients (iv) showed that “Chemotherapy-Induced Peripheral Neuropathy (CIPN)” is one reason cancer patients often stop treatment early, and there is significant evidence that massage can improve this condition.

Note that the Canadian Cancer Society mentions these precautions— 

If you have damaged blood vessels or a bleeding disorder, such as easy bruising and bleeding or blood clots, you should not have a massage. If you are taking blood thinners, you should avoid massage or only have very gentle, light touch massage to prevent bruising and bleeding.

A common topic of concern among cancer patients involves worrying that massage in the area of a tumour could increase the flow of blood and lymph fluid, with the fear that cancer cells could break away and travel to other parts of the body. 

The evidence suggests that the speed of blood or lymph fluid circulation has nothing to do with the spread of cancer cells. (v) The Cancer Society, in reviewing the literature to date assures cancer patients that massage therapy is safe for them to use as an adjunct to the primary cancer treatments, even with Stage 4 tumours. (vii)

Feel free to contact any of the massage therapists at Solace Wellness to exchange information and determine whether Massage Therapy is a good option for your individual situation. We look forward to having that conversation and discussing the best approach for you. We would be pleased to be an integral part of your Healing Team!


(i)  Mao JJ et al.  Integrating Oncology Massage into Chemoinfusion suites:  J Oncol Pract. 2017 Mar;13(3).

(ii) Smith, Marlaine C., R.N., Ph.D., et al.   Providing Massage Therapy for People with Advanced Cancer: What to Expect.  J Altern Complement Med. 2009 Apr; 15(4): 367–371. 

(iii) URL:

(iv)  Myers, CD et al.  The value of massage therapy in cancer care.  Hematol Oncol Clin North Am. 2008 Aug;22(4):649-60

(v)  Menendez AG, Cobb R, Carvajal AR, et al. Effectiveness of massage therapy (MT) as a treatment strategy and preventive modality for chemotherapy-induced peripheral neuropathy (CIPN) symptoms. J Clin Oncol. 2016;34(suppl 26S; abstr 193)

(vi)  Smith, Marlaine C., op. cit.

(vii), op. cit.

Why choose Solace?

Solace had it's humble beginning in 2007 when Lynne Berge RMT opened the clinic in the Old City Quarter.  Her goal was to provide the highest standard of care that massage therapy could offer by bringing experience, continuous study and intention to her work.  She combined this with an environment that soothed all senses to encourage the settling of the nervous system and help clients relax into the therapeutic treatment.  Today 7 other excellent, dedicated RMT's have joined Solace to enhance and participate in the vision started 11 years ago.

Here is a glimpse of what you can expect upon entering the clinic.  You will be greeted with a cup of locally grown tea and we will settle you in to our environment in front of inspiring art work.  Our therapists strive to start treatments on time to give you the most hands on time possible so we recommend arriving a few minutes early to soak in the environment.  Once the treatment is underway, you will settle onto a heated table, with options for aromatherapy blends added to our natural oils.  The music is relaxing, the air is fresh and the lights are dim and thus the therapy begins.

Your massage therapy treatment at the Solace will be uniquely designed for you.  Solace RMT's pay particular attention to detail and set intention to tune in to your body's needs.

On your way out, we encourage you to take your time.  Sit, have another cup of tea.  We gift you some salts to soak in later too.   

We are grateful for all of our new and return clientel and Nanaimo's rating of top three clinics in the city!

Self care between massage appointments

Well, it’s true that each of us is unique genetically, & our health history also shapes how our body responds to things, so that needs to be a factor in considering the best way to support it.  

This implies that we let the body take the lead & do what it’s know to do best….to keep us in “Homeostasis”—a technical word for keeping the body in a stable, healthy condition. It does so by self-regulation of the inner equilibrium, or balance. For example, it adjusts our body pH (acidity/akalinity), temperature, blood sugar levels, blood pressure, amount of oxygen & carbon dioxide in the blood and so on, completely without conscious control, all of which is crucial to survival.



The body fine-tunes itself through many feedback systems that operate through hormones, which are very powerful substances created by the body, operating to stimulate or diminish the action of a particular organ.

Examples of organs that are regulated this way are

    hypothalamus and pituitary (master glands in the brain),

  • lung
  • skin
  • muscles, ligaments, tendons
  • kidneys
  • liver & pancreas

Our normal regulation of body temperature is a complicated system which keeps our internal environment within close limits, to provide optimum health.  But various environmental as well as physical and emotional stresses (seasonal changes, infections, worries, sleeplessness, etc.) are known to alter that careful balance.


This is the first of a series of articles describing simple, natural ways to support our body-mind, reduce inflammation, and derive peak vitality with which to face daily challenges—


Hydrotherapy has historically been an approach that was used to increase the body’s resilience and resistance to disease.  Sebastian Kneipp, in the mid-1800’s in Europe, pioneered Kneipp baths to help achieve these goals.  He also advocated eating wholesome foods, drinking spring water, exercising appropriately, and taking opportunities to calm the mind as well.




In its basic form, hydrotherapy works on these principles:

Hot water applied to the body calms and soothes it, slowing down the actions of the internal organs and promoting sleep.  Cold water, on the other hand, stimulates and invigorates the body, increasing internal activities, such as increased muscle tone and vasoconstriction.


For those who like to understand the mechanisms—vasoconstriction (tightening up of the blood vessels), makes blood move from the surface of your body to the core, as a means to conserve heat. Not only does it conserve heat, it also reflexively bathes the brain and vital organs in fresh blood. This movement will bring nutrition, oxygen and also help gently detoxify all areas. 

Warm water, on the other hand, will make the vessels vasodilate (relax) which will bring blood up to the surface of the body. This helps blood circulation move away from the core, detoxifying the internal systems through the skin & lungs.


LYMPH –Our natural drainage, detox system

A parallel system to the blood vessels is the Lymphatic system—the function of the lymph is to bathe all the cells in nourishing liquid and to carry away debris & wastes.

It also carries the infection-fighting components of our blood to the sites that needs these, so is an incredibly important part of the body’s defence system.  So lymph fluid is directly impacted by hydrotherapy as well.  (We will discuss lymph drainage in detail in future articles on self-care for the body).


Methods of Stimulating the Detox system & relaxing musculature:

Professional Hydrotherapy techniques, such as at health spas, involve both full and partial immersion in water. Quite often, as was the case for the original Kneipp therapy, herbs and minerals are added (such as, eucalyptus, lavender, rosemary and chamomile), which provide their own healing properties to the experience.


Therapists at Solace Wellness often encourage clients with chronic pain in their extremities to apply “contrast bathing” in a sink or Tupperware bin to increase circulation to the joints & muscles.  The technique includes dipping the body partially or completely into hot water for 3 minutes, and then plunging the body (or limb) into cold water for 30 seconds for at least 3 alternating rounds.  Showers can also work well as a contrast medium, starting with hot, and finishing off with cold, if that is more convenient.


It works best if the difference in temperatures is at least 10 degrees Celsius, although a greater difference generally produces a greater benefit—this is called “Vascular Training” and the experience is completely invigorating, with effects lasting the whole day!


Scientific validation of these techniques:

Research on this topic by Toda et al., in 2006 was reported by Dr. Peter Bongiorno (Naturopath) in Psychology Today, showing that many of the therapeutic effects of hot & cold water contrast treatments are achieved by the mechanism of lowering of the body’s Stress Response.  

Additionally, a randomized study in 2010 by Dubois et al. working with 237 patients with anxiety showed that daily bath treatments using warm natural mineral waters (sodium, calcium, magnesium and sulfates) followed by specific kinds of massage, daily for 21 days were effective at reducing anxiety rates.  These therapies were also shown to be safe and free from side effects.


Other research by Schevchuk, in 2008 suggested that exposure to cold water activates the sympathetic nervous system, increasing blood levels of adrenalin, the “get-up-and-go hormone”, which can help people feel uplifted naturally.  They reported that hydrotherapy can also modulate the production of Beta-endorphins (the “feel-good hormones”) to give us a deep sense of well-being.



Why not try this simple, no-cost approach to supporting your body’s homeostatic balance by invigorating and/or soothing it,  providing exceptional vitality—the results will be worth the effort!  

Ask the massage therapists at Solace Wellness for their personal recommendations for doing these procedures at home, if you are feeling motivated.